Grime, gangs and class A drugs are not necessarily the first three things that you would associate with Shakespeare.
Yet, all three played a heavy role in Imogen, the ‘renamed and reclaimed’ adaptation of Cymbeline, on at the Globe right now. Director, Matthew Dunster ensured Imogen was the centre of the play, considering she had more lines than the titular character, and in doing so refocuses the narrative. Shakespeare’s tragicomedy is a production full of changed identities and the passions of honour and love. Posthumus (Ira Mandela Siobhan) is banished and separated from his new wife, Imogen (Maddy Hill), by her father King Cymbeline of Britain (Jonathan McGuinness) and scheming Queen (Claire-Louise Cordwell) as they intended for her to marry Cloten (Joshua Lacey). Meanwhile, there is also a rivalry between the Romans and the Britons to contend with. What follows is the prolonged unravelling of a tangled web of concealment and masquerade, where all is revealed.
Imogen opens to a modernist staging, defined by urban brutalist concrete, frosted butcher’s curtains and thin fluorescent lighting. All of which garishly juxtaposes the aged ornate theatre. A gang marches on stage, transforming it into a crack house where the first scene is played out. The cast is bedecked in what designer Jon Bauser calls ‘the uniform of youth culture’, a sportswear defined look with tracksuits and trainers being the costume of choice. In this modern world they created, drugs are shown to play a major part – indeed a later scene is set by a grow-house. However, this motif only seems to last for a bit of the first half, becoming redundant and forgotten in the second.
There was a relatively strong ensemble, with the second half notably stronger than the first. The comic timing of the ‘saucy stranger’ Giacomo (Matthew Needham) was excellent, and served to enhance the energy of each scene he was in. Similarly, Joshua Lacey was notable for his ability to transform a truly miserable character into a spoilt and swaggering Cloten. Hill’s Imogen had quite a bland start, the way in which she showed her obsession missed a certain amount of believability; however, upon donning the guise of Fidele, Hill seemed to come into her own and prove she was not a one-dimensional actor. What was once pouty and shouty became real emotion that captured the audience’s sympathy. Really, the whole play gets better in the second half. Siobhan’s Posthumus takes on a frenetic determination that translates beautifully in the fight scenes. Moreover, Martin Marquez’s brusque treatment of Arviragus (William Grint) and Guiderius (Scott Karim) is a heart-warming portrayal of family, helped by using both speech and sign language – making it a multi-sensory experience.
“a modernist staging, defined by urban brutalist concrete, frosted butcher’s curtains and thin fluorescent lighting. All of which garishly juxtaposes the aged ornate theatre.”
A special mention must be made to choreographer, Christopher Akrill, for there were beautiful moments of physicality. With a backdrop of Stormzy, Daft Punk and Skepta, the choppy choreography serves to further enhance the urban vibe. The whole cast displayed a lot of energy with some dynamic action sequences. For example, there is a battlefield scene where half of the cast are on wires, flying over the stage in a brutally chaotic fight sequence. Director, Matthew Dunster described Imogen as ‘a dance piece with text coming out of it’. This certainly is the case, with many of the fight scenes throughout the piece, many are artistic but some are just uncomfortable to watch for all of their realism.
Though there are definitely moments where it feels like it is trying too hard to stay relevant and move with the times with this modern retelling, Imogen does manage to provide an innovative and urban take on Cymbeline. The pure dynamic energy that the ensemble provided made for an entertaining evening. Although there is much room for improvement, it is a fresh and fun performance that will both entertain and bemuse.
Image: Tristram Kenton 2016